The Investigative Unit exposes how the state system to keep tabs on dangerous schools, overlooks some serious crimes. Jenna Susko reports.
After you drop the kids off at school and they take their seats in class, do you really know what happens on campus?
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit filed nearly 100 public records requests with law enforcement agencies, school districts and the state, and found chilling crimes on Bay Area high school and middle school campuses that were never reported to the public.
The system that’s supposed to track which schools are dangerous in California is not taking into account some serious crimes, including an attempted murder at Pioneer High School in San Jose.
Sources say the case began when a student at Pioneer began harassing a female classmate in the spring of 2009.
He was eventually transferred to another school, but days after the move, returned to campus in a black trench coat. Sources said the principal spotted the student and called police.
Shortly after, the girl he was accused of harassing, exited a classroom. Sources said he ran toward her, reaching into his coat pocket. Police tackled him, and found inside his jacket, a 14-inch knife and two suicide notes.
The student was tried as a juvenile and convicted of attempted murder.
The crime was never made public. When the Investigative Unit asked what happened that day, Assistant Superintendent Jason Willis of the San Jose Unified School District said: “We don’t have that information.”
The school district says that once a crime occurs, San Jose police takes record of the case. SJPD denied our requests for information.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit also found out that parents were never told about the crime.
“We really rely on our school staff to make the best judgment possible and inform the community about what’s happening and it’s served us well,” Willis said.
In this case, the student was never expelled. According to the district, his family requested that the Board of Education postpone his expulsion hearings. The district says the student was in juvenile hall.
The Investigative Unit found that student is related to Veronica Lewis, who was the Board of Education’s president.
Lewis refused to comment about her involvement in the case.
When asked whether Lewis' role may have affected the student's situation, Willis responded: "It may have."
That decision not to suspend or expel the student did impact what the state knows about the case, which is nothing.
To see what your child's school reported, click here.
Since the student in the attempted murder case was not expelled, it was never reported.
Neither was an alleged rape reported by San Jose High School in 2009, or an incident in 2010 where a Broadway High School student was threatened with a knife. Both are in the San Jose Unified School District.
In both cases, the suspects were not students, so no disciplinary action was taken. The district said they don’t have any information about what happened.
“It does merit a very high level of concern,” Dr. Ron Stephens, Executive Director of the National School Safety Center told NBC Bay Area.
“If you don’t have a clue of what the problem is and you don’t track anything, it’s going to be pretty hard to fix the issue,” Stephens said.
The investigation revealed another issue: records show students caught with drugs but police were never notified.
Records at Mountain View Whisman School District show that police were not called in about half the cases that officials caught students in possession or under the influence of marijuana this year.
“My first question is, who is confiscating that marijuana that’s not being turned over to the police?” Stevens asked.
Superintendent Craig Goldman said: “We trust the judgment of our school administrators as to when it is appropriate to notify law enforcement.”
He also said some of the incidents were mislabeled.
A similar situation was discovered at Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District. Records show students were caught with marijuana, others selling it. The district’s own records show authorities were called four of the 35 times.
They now say law enforcement was called, but the district did not document it.
Superintendent Bob Mistele sent a statement in response:
“The safety of our students and creating a positive learning environment is our top priority. Maintaining a proactive, supportive system of discipline is part of that commitment. In response to your Public Record Act Request and questions you had about the prior years’ discipline data we provided, I have confirmed with our site staff that any time a student is caught in possession of a controlled substance, the authorities are notified and the substance in question turned over. As we explored your questions, we have learned that this is not always entered in our on-line data system and I appreciate the opportunity this investigation has afforded us to enhance this particular record-keeping system. We are extremely fortunate to have incredibly safe campuses and an environment where students feel comfortable and supported. We also recognize the importance of accurate and complete record keeping and will be working to improve in this area.”
“The system is currently flawed in a lot of different ways,” 28th District Assemblymember Luis Alejo told NBC Bay Area.
Alejo is working on several bills to change how districts report incidents, hoping to make schools more accountable.
"I think most parents would say they want to know about it they want to know what’s happening, and it should be made easily available,” Alejo said. “That’s certainly an issue that education leaders and policymakers alike should be focusing on and seeing how can we make that easily available.”
Editor’s Note: Some of the campus video featured in this report is generic school video and not necessarily from the schools mentioned.